It’s more than a little unnerving to discover that the “canonized” Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. collection that Library of America is bringing out on June 11 excludes my favorite work of his — his mind-boggling second novel (1959), The Sirens of Titan, by all counts his wittiest and most profound — as well as Mother Night (his third, 1961), another major work.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Library of America is planing one or more other Vonnegut volumes, thus theoretically making room for the first three novels (Piano Player in 1952 was his debut effort) as well as more of the late and relatively weak ones, along with his play, Happy Birthday, Wanda June, and other stories. But the weird thing about LOA’s canonizing is that it creates contestable and uncomfortable groupings, even when they’re simply chronological; for me, Cat’s Cradle (1963) belongs squarely with the two novels preceding it, not with the three that came afterwards. This isn’t quite as grotesque as collecting William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury in the same volume as his Soldier’s Pay, Mosquitoes, and Flags in the Dust (the longer version of Sartoris), which the Library of America also did, but it’s still bothersome.
One of the things that’s special and perhaps controversial about The Sirens of Titan is that it comes closer to the turf of the pulpier SF epics with which Vonnegut subsequently usually preferred to disassociate himself — an aspect reflected in all but the last of the book jackets reproduced here, which also reflects some of the thematic range of the plot. By and large, LOA has so far shown itself to be far more hospitable to thrillers than to SF; room is made for James Cain, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, and Cornell Woolrich, but not (yet) for Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Henry Kuttner, or Theodore Sturgeon. [2/11/11]